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Kansas House Committee Examines Immigrant Tuition Benefit

Kelvin Lopez urges lawmakers not to repeal the in-state tuition law for certain undocumented immigrants. (Photo by Stephen Koranda)

Currently, the children of illegal immigrants are allowed to pay in-state tuition at Kansas community colleges and universities - if they meet certain criteria.  But some lawmakers want to change that.  A House committee took testimony Tuesday on a plan to revoke the in-state tuition, which is currently used by about 650 students in Kansas.  Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach says the current law is unfair to legal immigrants, who may not be eligible for in-state tuition.


“Kansas law currently only rewards you if you are an illegal alien. That is a perverse incentive. It should never have been in Kansas law in the first place,” says Kobach.

Students who use the provision to pay in-state tuition told lawmakers that they grew up in Kansas and identify as Americans.  Kansas Board of Regents member Fred Logan also spoke in favor of the current law, calling it a pro-economic-growth policy.

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A Kansas law currently allows some students, who aren’t in this country legally, to pay in-state tuition at state community colleges and universities. Around 650 students are now using the program. But as KPR’s Stephen Koranda reports, a Kansas House committee is considering a bill that would take away that benefit.


(SCRIPT)
Republican Representative John Rubin, from Shawnee, is against the idea of giving in-state tuition to the children of undocumented immigrants.  He says the policy has helped turn Kansas into a “veritable sanctuary state” for illegal immigrants.

     “It makes no sense to me to promise our citizens that we will enforce our borders and enforce the rules of law on immigration, then turn around and reward those who break those very laws to come to this state,” says Rubin.

Rubin wants to get rid of the law because he says it encourages undocumented immigrants to come to Kansas. Rubin and others also referenced the president’s immigration actions during their testimony, saying Obama is circumventing the Constitution.

     “Just because the president has done that, it doesn’t mean that we here in Kansas must acquiesce,” says Rubin.

Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach says the 2004 Kansas law creates an uneven playing field between undocumented students and others who are forced to pay out-of-state tuition.

     “It’s unfair to U.S. citizens who live in Nebraska or Missouri and are paying three times as much in tuition. It’s unfair to the legal aliens who are doing it the right way,” says Kobach.

But on the other side of the argument there are the young people in Kansas who are directly benefiting from the law.

     “If this were to be repealed I would have to drop out of school and my life, essentially, would be ruined.”

That’s Kelvin Lopez, a student at Wichita State University. He was brought to the U.S. illegally as a child by his parents. He’s working his way through school and he hopes to be an attorney and even run for political office. But taking away his in-state tuition could put a stop to that.

     “I don’t think that’s fair to me as a taxpayer, someone that’s been raised around everyone else’s children, someone that has identified themselves as an American,” says Lopez

The Kansas Board of Regents also supports the law. Regent Fred Logan calls the current law a pro-growth policy that will create educated workers. He also points out, these students are not eligible for federal and state student loans or grants.

     “They have to do this on their own guts. They have to do this on the own motivation. They’re exactly what this state needs,” says Logan.

The House Education Committee is now considering the bill. Efforts to repeal the law have failed in recent years.

 

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